Mourning can turn into dancing

PEOPLE - Joanne Rae M. Ramirez -

You have turned my mourning into joyful dancing. You have taken away my clothes of mourning and clothed me with joy. Psalm 30:11

It is two days after Easter and hope fills me. Christmas brings me joy and merriment, but Easter ushers in a feeling of renewal, of rebirth. It feels like a spiritual New Year for me.

Christmas is Silent Night but Easter is Joy in the Morning. I think of Jesus in both celebrations, but in different ways. And being human, affected by pleasure just as by inner joy, it is actually Christmas I look forward to more. But Easter brings to me a serenity unattached to material things, a lighter feeling after the cleansing that comes from the meditating, the self-denial and simplification of our lives on Good Friday.

I was once told by my Religion teacher that Easter is the most important feast in the Christian calendar as redemption from sin because of Christ’s death and resurrection is the core of our faith, and it is commemorated on Easter. Christ’s life is not a contest of feasts — but Easter truly shows us, just as Christ did, that after Calvary is Glory, and that “mourning can turn into joyful dancing.”

Turn My Mourning Into Dancing is actually the title of the book by Henri Nouwen, an ordained priest and gifted teacher who has taught at several universities worldwide, including Notre Dame, Harvard and Yale. According to the book’s publishers, “Nouwen suggests that by greeting life’s pains with something other than despair, we can find surprising joy in our suffering. He suggests that the way through suffering is not in denial, but rather in living fully in the midst of the trials life brings our way.”

I learned of Nouwen’s book during the 23rd birth anniversary of KC de Venecia recently, during which her mother Gina gathered together all those who have helped her cope with KC’s death in 2004, among them, psychologist Dr. Honey Carandang. Carandang mentioned the book when she said that like Gina, it was possible to go on living, and one day be happy again, after the loss of a loved one, no matter how painful.

“I miss KC very much,” says Gina. “There will always be a hole in a heart that can never be filled. But yes, I have moved on…”

Dr. Honey Carandang.

KC’s birth anniversary was marked by a Mass celebrated by Father Bernie Carpio at the Forbes Crypt of Santuario de San Antonio where KC’s remains lay. It was followed by a simple breakfast at the family’s residence, also at Forbes. Father Carpio was the same priest whom KC saw for confession a few days before she died.

Present at the Mass were Ballsy Cruz and Viel Dee, the INA members, UCPB chair Menardo Jimenez, former Sen. Heherson Alvarez and wife Cecille, Dr. Carandang and family friends of the De Venecias. The INA Foundation, which Gina heads, came out yesterday with a statement in support of Carandang, who is being sued for libel in the light of her statements on Jan Jan, the child who danced a sexy number in the TV show Willing Willie. In part, the statement reads, “In the many years that she (Carandang) has volunteered in helping us heal and cope with our pain, we have known her to be most sympathetic and generous with her already limited, precious time.”  

* * *

After the Mass, I had a chat with Carandang in the De Venecias’ Tamarind St. home, which they built after their Magnolia St. home in Dasmariñas Village burned down. Effervescent and youthful, Carandang lost both her parents and a sister to a fire. So she and Gina are linked by more than just their bereavement.

I share her insights in hopes that readers who are in pain due to the death of a loved one (I myself lost my beloved father Frank in July last year) may find a balm in her words, and perhaps a roadmap to that wonderful place called healing.

Carandang says that most people who have lost a loved one feel some guilt, and will torment themselves with questions like, “Why did I do this? Why didn’t I do this?”

“It’s always there no matter what you have done,” says Carandang.

Carandang said she helped Gina by “allowing her to grieve, to feel the pain, because you cannot heal without going through the pain. You have to go there. The painful journey has to happen before healing happens.”

The noted psychologist says release is important. In Filipino we say, “Ilabas mo.”

“Being able to release and express ourselves without being told to get over it, helps. Allow it, it’s normal. Losing a child is a trauma. That’s why I’m telling the INA members, you are not just grieving, you have just experienced the death of a loved one, you are also experiencing trauma. Because for a child to die before the mother is abnormal and trauma is a normal reaction to an abnormal situation. So it doesn’t mean you’re going crazy or something’s wrong with you. But you are reacting normally in an abnormal situation.”

Carandang said there is no prescribed time for recovery in the case of grief.

“There is no prescribed time for healing because each one has his own time. It took me two years to become normal but I didn’t know. I was doing my job. It’s as if you’re going through the routine but your heart is hollow. There’s a big hole inside and your body is empty. You can perform your job, but you’re not really feeling the normal feeling. In fact, after two years, I said ‘Oh, how really beautiful are green trees,’ because suddenly, everything becomes colorful again. Before that, everything was gray.”

Recovery for Gina and many bereaved people is not a fait accompli. It’s an ongoing process.

“Actually, it’s up and down. It’s never a straight line,” says Carandang.

And Carandang stresses something very crucial to the formation of a person — a happy childhood.

“The other thing about recovering also from tragedy is that if you’re nurtured early in childhood, you can go back to a place where you have been cared for. Meron kang babalikan. For years and years, people have debunked it. But now, after 35 years of continuous practice, I see it all the time.”

Gina had a happy childhood, so it was her anchor when she was sailing in rough seas.

It is also important to be part of a support group, and to reach out to those who have experienced the pain you are undergoing. This, Gina did with her INA Foundation.

And finally, Gina is healing because she is accompanying others on their journey through pain and to healing, and making life more meaningful for them. This, believes the psychologist, is in itself like an anti-depressant.

“If there is a hundred percent kind of healing, she’s 90-95, if you are to calibrate it. She’s helping a lot of people, always giving and what she gives comes back to her, it’s true. Whatever she’s doing to help others enriches her.”

And finally, can a bereaved mother allow herself to be happy again?

“Yes, that is one of the things we discuss in the INA. They feel that if they’re happy again, they’re betraying their child. But that’s one thing that we have to work on because even Nouwen, the Catholic priest, wrote that after a while you can turn your mourning into dancing, you can be joyful. It doesn’t mean that when you are happy, you have lost the person you were grieving for, that you have forgotten him. That person is inside you...”

(P.S. And now, the joyful dancing. When I greeted Tita Gina a Happy Easter, she excitedly announced to me that KC’s older brother Ipe Cruz just finished his master’s in publishing at New York University and is graduating with the “highest honors,” with an average of 3.99  4 being the perfect score. Ipe is also getting the “Excellence in Magazine Publishing” award. Former US President Bill Clinton will speak at Ipe’s graduation on May 17.)

(You may e-mail me at [email protected])







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